Sorry I didn't get the joke, Rob, but I still think it's a valid question.
To my mind, the big question about so many of these new alternative materials is how sustainably they can be manufactured and whether they can be recycled in one fashion or another: whether that's biodegrading or being turned into fuel via a waste-to-energy process (and how bad or good those may be for the environment). Like you have often said, it's the whole lifecycle that must be considered.
Well, the boric acid was a joke -- and top of mind as I'm fighting a sugar ant infestation.
But to the point, the more I read your articles as well as articles about energy savings attempts in automotive and aerospace, over and over, it's the materials that matter. Plus, many of the newly develop materials are environmentally friendly in their own right.
Rob, that's an interesting chemistry question. Since this material only mimics an exoskeleton and is actually made of shrimp shells and silk, boric acid won't have the same effect on it. But it might also damage it.
And I agree with you, I think that one big method for reducing dependence on fossil fuels may be better materials.
Beth, that's the first thing I thought when I saw the comparison with aluminum--whether this material might have apps in aircraft, either wings or other components, instead of or in addition to composites. I'm wondering the same thing about this material as Chuck mentioned, just exactly how it compares with aluminum in strength and stiffness, as well as shear.
This story also puts me in mind of the upcoming Medical Design & Manufacturing conference in Feb. (Link is here.) Not intending this to be a promo for the show, but it's about medical devices and of course miniaturization is the big trend in that area, and anything enabling strong but small packaging will/could be a significant driver of new product development.
Ann, thanks for another interesting article. Beth, you are absolutely right about biomimickry ("biomimetics" is the fancy word for this).
As Ann's article points out, the key to getting the strength and toughness of insect cuticle was reproducing the lamellar structure, with hard (chitosan) and soft (fibroin) layers. Many biological materials are able to achieve amazing properties through the proper arrangement of hard and soft segments. Perhaps even more amazing, these materials are self-assembled at the molecular level!
There is a lot of fascinating work going on in materials engineering departments related to the structure and properties of biological materials. Dr. Marc Meyers and his group at UC-San Diego have done some very interesting work on clam shells, toucan beaks, and armadillo armor, among other materials.
There is also a lot of fasinating work attempting to create new materials based on principles found in nature. Dr. Robert Ritchie of UC-Berkley gave an interesting presentation at last year's Materials Science and Technology conference in Columbus about work he has been doing using ice templates to create polymer-ceramic composites with structures based on mother-of-pearl. These materials are incredibly tough, tougher than many aluminum alloys.
Molecular self-assembly of strong, tough, lightweight, nanostructured materials is something which we, as materials engineers, would love to be able to do. Our bodies, and the natural world around us, do it every day, yet we are only just beginning to learn how it's done.
I would think lots of applications in aerospace because afterall aircraft wings are in really no more than a biomimickry interpretation of bird's wings. Maybe this material, once it evolves and is commercialized, can give composites a run for the money!
Lightweight airplane wings are one of the possibilities I had in mind, too when I first saw this, and not only because the researchers started with the proposition of recreating an insect wing's material. It was the comparison with aluminum that caught my eye, since that comparison is so often made by composite manufacturers, especially in aerospace apps.
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